Paul asks a great question: How would you read Parable of the Sower if you didn’t know there was a sequel? And I hate to have to say it, but I think I would read it as incomplete.
On the level of just plot (what Paul describes in a comment as the day-to-day stuff)—well, let’s say incident—I think the story’s actually pretty neatly laid out. This is Lauren; this is Lauren’s family; this is Lauren’s home; family and home are taken from Lauren and she has to find new ones; Lauren makes a new family and a new home. Ta-da. On those terms, I don’t need a sequel!
But everywhere along the way, this book is striving toward a farther future than 2027. Paul’s had his eye on that Mars mission we heard so tantalizingly little about, and Lauren’s explicitly trying to found a religion (which is a legacy kind of project, obviously), and the group she gathers does found a community (another legacy kind of project). Lauren’s been planning for a significant portion of her life for how to live after her neighborhood inevitably falls, not just how to get to someplace else that’s safe.
I’m not saying that I don’t want a book to have a sense of in some way continuing past the back cover (I’d have a biiiiiig problem with Infinite Jest if that were the case). It’s good when the characters and situations live vibrantly enough in me that I can imagine what I’m not shown! But I want that feeling to come from the coherence and vividness of the characterization and writing, not from an obligation to pick up a bunch of dropped threads. That’s where I don’t think Parable of the Sower stands alone very well.
I asked a couple weeks ago whether this is messianic fiction, and I still do think that it casts Lauren as a messiah—she sets out to become one on purpose. Frankly, I was surprised when Gray and Doe joined her band; with Emery and Tori, they were up to a count of Lauren plus eleven, so I fully expected just a single follower, to total them up to an even dozen disciples. (Then Jill died, and I was all, “A-ha! Here’s our twelve, and clearly Grayson will be the Judas.”) That’s a me problem, not a Butler problem, of course, but it’s a sign of how loudly I felt that bell was being rung—and then they find a place to settle and the book’s over. Lauren has her intentions, but not a sect yet. For any reasonable exposition of how Earthseed develops, after she’s spent so much energy consolidating it, there had to be another book.
It sure seems like some of that development needs to happen on Mars, doesn’t it? There’s a Mars mission! (I don’t mean to keep poking you about this, Paul; I’m genuinely tickled that it put a burr under your saddle and I forgot all about it except for your curiosity. I guess this is what my gratitude looks like?) And Earthseed’s Destiny—with a capital D, even—is “to take root among the stars,” explicitly to spread Earthlife to other worlds. That’s a great big Chekhov’s Spaceship…that never launches.
Now’s the time when I want to reiterate that I’m talking about how I would read this book, in the counterfactual case that I didn’t know it has a sequel. Because it sure sounds like I’m dumping on it, when I actually enjoyed reading it. It’s just that I’m reading it as “book one.” And as book one, it’s got me excited for book two!
This is where the book really didn’t do much for me, even if I liked it well enough in the end. I think a book either has to tick these sorts of boxes or has to be really out there in terms of world building to be one that really grips me. This one is sort of neither. It’s different from our current reality, but it’s not that different from current reality for some people in the world. And it is written in a pretty utilitarian style.
By contrast, Jemisin in her two trilogies creates whole new cosmoses and builds worlds and people (especially in the Broken Earth set) unlike anything I had ever imagined. Even if the writing style was utilitarian (I don’t remember whether it was or not), Jemisim pulled me all the way into the world and dazzled me. I liked Parable of the Sower just fine, but it sure didn’t dazzle me.
The Mars thing has sort of stuck with me too, and it felt especially like we were going to be going there when Lauren explained Destiny. But, about a quarter into the next book, I’m having trouble seeing how we’ll get there. Maybe we were going to Mars in the third book that never materialized. Or, who knows, maybe we’ll go there in the 300 pages remaining in Talents.
I was just going over my notes for part one of Talents and noticed that Lauren said that Acorn started with 13 original members. I wasn’t counting as you had been, but this sure stood out to me. That’s a dozen and a messiah, right?
Do you get the feeling that these books were meant to BE parables. Like they are utilitarian by design so that the underlying message (the Earth is F’d if we don’t do something about it, women: don’t let dumb ass men tell you what to do) got across? There’s some pretty powerful passages in here that aren’t beautifully written but do say things quite effectively.
I don’t know. Maybe that’s it. I guess I personally feel like polemic is more potent for that sort of thing than just so-so prose fiction, but that’s just one take.
I like this as a style note, but I’m not sure it would hold up as a full analysis if you wanted to try. The key thing with a parable is the simile that it’s built on—”the sum of money entrusted to a servant by his master is like the gifts given to you by God”—and I don’t, on short reflection anyway, see these books operating on that level of abstraction. I think we’re supposed to understand the events as themselves, not as standing for something else.
Jeff, I think you nailed it as to why I felt a little empty after this book.
It did do all of the proper plot things and I was fine with not knowing how things turned out. It just felt like it was missing something. And i think you got it.
For all of my close reading, i am TERRIBLE at picking up allegories. It never even occurred to me that their numbers would reach 11/12. It almost seems like Butler would want to avoid that if she is going against Christianity, but maybe it was more interesting to follow the rules (especially if the name comes from the bible).
LOL about Mars I don’t know why it stuck with me so much. It looks like I’ll never learn about Mars, either. I mean she is one of the few people who seems to see value in the space missions. So it makes sense that’s where she thinks out Destiny is–especially if Earth is doomed. So why not keep us updated about how things are going up there.
Do we know if she stated that there would be a sequel when this was written? I think I’d have been pretty frustrated if i didn’t think there was going to be one.